Paul Watrobski is an accomplished researcher and acclaimed musician who also has served as a resident assistant and Watson peer advisor.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Commencement 2014 profile: Paul Watrobski
May 12, 2014Tweet
Paul Watrobski traces his love of engineering to observing a trapped balloon as a 5-year-old.
“My little sister let go of a helium balloon and it went up into a skylight at our house,” Watrobski said. “She was upset about it and didn’t know how to get it down. My dad was at work, but I had an idea. I told my mom to get the central vacuum and floor attachment. She reached up with it and pulled the string and balloon down. At 5, I was able to come up with that idea.”
As a first-grader, young Paul started playing the violin.
“Halfway through that year, my teacher told me that I had big hands and I should switch to a larger instrument,” he said. “So I started playing the cello and have not looked back since.”
Engineering and music have provided the foundation for Watrobski’s success at Binghamton University. The 22-year-old will graduate this month with a degree in electrical and computer engineering. He also recently delivered his senior cello recital and performed as part of the University Symphony Orchestra.
Watrobski, who is from Penfield (near Rochester, N.Y.), spent the summer of 2012 at the University of Oakland in Michigan as part of the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program (NSF REU). In the summer of 2013, he was chosen as an undergraduate research fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Maryland. NIST is a federal agency that works with industry to advance measurement science, standards and technology.
At NIST, Watrobski studied dynamic spectrum access or the better use of the radio-frequency spectrum.
“We are running out of frequencies to allocate,” he said. “We’re not using them efficiently. So we’re looking to be able to determine when they are being used and not being used, so we can communicate over those gaps.”
The NIST research served as Watrobski’s senior project this year. He plans to return to NIST this summer before pursuing his master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering at Binghamton University.
On campus, Watrobski helped organize TEDx-type engineering talks, in which Watson faculty members such as Ron Miles, Scott Craver and Guy German discuss their research.
“This was a way for me to get students to see the exciting research that professors are doing and to see if students could get involved more with their departments,” Watrobski said.
Watrobski also spends 10 hours a week working as the lead Watson peer advisor. Besides overseeing 10 other peers, Watrobski offers advice and helps students plan for courses and understand degree requirements.
“It’s about guiding them toward making the best choices that will affect them positively for their education here,” he said.
Sharon Santobuono, associate director of Watson Advising, praised Watrobski’s contributions to the advising office.
“Paul is nothing short of amazing and will continue to amaze me long after he graduates,” she said. “He is one of the kindest, multi-talented and well-rounded engineering students I have ever known. He has a gentle, quiet leadership style that made him very accessible to students and fellow peers.”
Watrobski’s leadership style has also found a home in Mountainview, where he is spending his first year as a resident assistant.
“It’s another opportunity for me to help students,” he said. “But instead of just helping them academically, it lets me help them with personal issues. I’ve been here for years and feel like I’ve done a lot around campus. I can help students decide what they want to do or to just step out of their comfort zone.”
Music, meanwhile, provides Watrobski an outlet and a way to unwind.
“It allows me to step back from the engineering and not worry about any issues I may have with my projects,” he said. “It lets me escape into a different world for an hour at a time or however long I am rehearsing.”
While Watrobski has played with the University Symphony Orchestra, in trios and quartets, and in off-campus shows at places such as No. 5 Restaurant in Binghamton, his musical ability is not limited to cello. He played the bass in the University Jazz Ensemble during his first semesters at Binghamton and also performs on the guitar and ukulele.
Watrobski would someday like to earn his doctorate and teach in academia. But first, he said, he needs industry experience.
“I want that real-world experience that I can share with any students I would have,” he said.
Watrobski said he is thankful for all that he has been able to accomplish at Binghamton University.
“I’ve learned who I am and what I want to be,” he said. “I want to help people – and that’s something I learned from Binghamton University. All of the opportunities to help people on and off campus have given me a sense of who I am. I’ve also learned that it’s never ‘all or nothing.’ I can do a mix of things while learning my limits.”